Military analysts around the world keep a close watch on Russia's annual fall in military maneuvers, as this year may prove to be the biggest force after the Cold War. Vostok-2018 starts this week in the Far East of Russia and the Pacific Ocean, along with additional exercises before and after the main event.
The big news this year is the addition of joint exercises with China. What do these military exercises involve and what do you need to know?
1. What are these war games?
The Vostok exercise is part of an annually recurring series of large-scale exercises that form the cornerstone of the annual training cycle of the Russian army. The series rotates through the four main operational Russian strategic commandos (East, Caucasus, Central and West) that give the exercises a name. "Vostok" means east; The Zapad 2017 of last fall took place along the western border of Russia.
Similar important strategic operational exercises took place every autumn during the Soviet period. Unlike military tools from the past, however, the Ministry of Defense has invoiced Vostok-2018 a strategic maneuvering exercise, in which the forces are divided into two groups that touch each other instead of fighting an imaginary opponent, as was the case in all previous repetitions. .
2. What is Russia's main goal for Vostok-2018?
According to the official statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the goals of the exercise include improving the ability of the Russian army to command and control joint military operations across multiple services in Eastern operations theater, to force troops over distances to the Russian Far East, and to coordinate operations between ground troops and the Pacific Fleet.
Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defense, announced that "comprehensive snap checks of the military districts of Central and Eastern Russia, the Northern Fleet, the Airborne troops and the long-haul and military transport aircraft" began on 20 August. It is also likely that a nuclear weapon exercise will take place. place at a certain point during this period, although it will not be linked to the Vostok exercise.
3. How big is big?
Official sources say that the total strength of the Russian troops involved in the exercise will be 300,000 military personnel, more than 1,000 aircraft and 36,000 equipment including 1100 tanks and more than 50 combat ships, making this the largest military exercise on Russian territory since at least 1981.
The actual size of the exercise is probably a lot smaller than advertised. The Russian army has inflated the number of participants in previous Vostok exercises by including entire brigades and divisions in the count, even when active involvement was limited to one battalion or regiment of that unit.
According to the Russian military expert Alexander Golts, it would be impossible to hold an exercise as big as advertised without holding the limited transport links between Central Russia and the Far East for several weeks. Nonetheless, analysts expect Vostok-2018 to be larger than last year's Zapad exercise, which was limited by the OSCE document from Vienna.
4. Why are Chinese troops involved?
In addition to Russian troops, Chinese and Mongolian troops will participate in the exercise on Russian territory. China is represented by 3,200 employees using 900 devices and 30 aircraft. Inviting Chinese troops will help to alleviate persistent Chinese concerns about the Russian army preparing for a future fight with China.
It is also possible that Vostok-2018 is the first Vostok exercise to openly advertise an interstate conflict scenario, in this case between two coalitions of states. Earlier Vostok exercises were all officially described as aiming at eliminating terrorist groups or illegal armed formations, to prevent them from defending a scenario in which Russian troops trained to protect their country from what could only be seen as a Chinese invasion.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, the purpose of Chinese participation is to strengthen Russian-Chinese relations and strengthen the strategic partnership between the two states. The exercise will also provide the Chinese army, which has not been involved in combat operations for decades, an opportunity to learn tactics and fighting strategies from the recent Russian battles in Syria.
5. What is the political impact?
Russia undoubtedly welcomes this signal of Chinese support at a time when the political tensions with NATO and the United States show no sign of weakening. Chinese participation in Russia's most important annual military exercise is a signal that Beijing is ready to develop closer cooperation with Moscow if relations with the United States continue to deteriorate.
Chinese official media have been unusually exuberant about the political significance of this exercise, and made clear a deepening of a strategic partnership. For the first time, it was openly stressed that China's partnership with Russia is intended to challenge the hegemonic role of the United States in the international system.
At the same time, one exercise, even a major and politically significant one such as Vostok-2018, pays attention to every secret declaration of a bilateral military alliance. Nor is Vostok-2018 a rehearsal for a large-scale worldwide war. As was the case last year with the Zapad exercise, when many analysts overestimated the scope of the exercise and discussed the probability that it would serve as coverage for a Russian occupation of Belarus and / or a new invasion of Ukraine, inflation just to discredit analysts and foster carers are tired about the real threats of the Russian army and its gradually developing partnership with China.
Despite the bustle in China, Vostok-2018 is just one of the many in a rotating series of annual capstone military exercises. The main political significance comes from signaling by both Russia and China about the possible emergence of a strategic partnership aimed at countering the threat that both countries feel by continuing the US domination of the international system.
Military analysts follow the daily news of Vostok-2018 and will take a deep dive in the military sense after the exercise has been completed. It is likely that the exercise will again be a strong demonstration of the ever-increasing ability of the Russian army to transfer troops to the Far East from other parts of Russia – and the ability to deploy air, land and naval forces. a joint way to operate.
Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior researcher in the Strategic Studies division of CNA and an employee of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Harvard.